Big City Tales

The Many Marvels of Musee d’Orsay

June 12, 2018
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When the Gare d’Orsay railway station first opened in 1900, its Beaux-Arts design was the talk of the town in Paris. Chief amongst its admirers was local painter Edouard Detaille, who prophetically penned that the station had the appearance of an art gallery. Little did he know that some 86 years later the station would, in fact, be converted to an art museum, and some of his own prized works would be hung on its walls. The remarkable journey from station to museum is just one of the many marvels of Musee d’Orsay that highlights mostly French painters and sculptors, but also includes masterpieces from notable international artists such as Klimt, Munch, van Gogh and Whistler.

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Amazing Architectural Backdrop

In taking on the station to museum conversion project, the ACT Architecture group was fortunate to have a building with ‘good bones’ that just needed a little tweaking in order to best serve its new purpose. With its high, vaulted ceiling and long, narrow main corridor bathed in natural light and accented by decorative plasters and arches, the designers stayed true to the original station look and layout while adding 20,000 square metres of new floor space.

The Main Hall consists of large, sumptuous sculptures in the central nave that are flanked with numerous side galleries where paintings and other smaller works are displayed. Along the far wall, the opulent and ornate D’Orsay clock designed by Victor Laloux for the original railway station is still mounted and is a work of art in and of itself.

The upper floor features a wide terrace that overlooks the Main Hall below and opens into additional galleries containing more paintings, photographs and a variety of decorative arts.

Homegrown Talent

French artists such as Cabanel, Couture, Delacroix, Fantin-Latour, Ingres, Tissot and de Toulouse-Lautrec amongst a host of others feature prominently in the Musee D’Orsay’s collection of paintings that cover the time period 1848-1914. Selected highlights include The Birth of Venus by Cabanel; Romans during the Decadence by Couture, and In Bed by de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masters

The Musee D’Orsay contains the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, including many works by Cezanne, Degas, Gaugin, Manet, Monet, Morisot, Renoir, Rousseau, Seurat, Sisley, van Gogh and other masters.

Poppy Field by Monet and Starry Night over the Rhone by van Gogh are some of the famous works displayed in the galleries.

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Petit Palais is BIG on Artistic Details

May 23, 2018
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As the building that houses the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts, the Petit Palais is big on artistic details that make for a lovely viewing experience of its glorious exterior, spacious galleries, and elegant garden courtyard.

The Petit Palais is located in the 8th arrondissement of Paris along Avenue Winston Churchill and is directly across the street from the Grand Palais. The two structures were originally constructed as exhibition halls for the 1900 World’s Fair (Exposition Universelle). The nearby Pont Alexandre III deck arch bridge, which reflects the aesthetic of the Grand Palais and Petit Palais, was also built at this time as part of the city’s preparations to welcome (and wow!) the world.

Designed by French architect Charles-Louis Girault, the Petit Palais is constructed of stone, steel and concrete and its exterior Beaux Arts style features numerous sculptures and other decorative elements such as a massive central archway topped by a dome, free-standing columns that frame a series of tall windows, and flower beds and fountains around the grounds.

The interior rotunda and main galleries were intended by Girault to be especially grand with vaulted ceilings, marble walls and tiled mosaic floors used to enhance the beauty of the art on display, notably the larger-than-life Gloria Victis statue created by French sculptor Antonin Mercie that stands proudly in the main entrance.

The rotunda’s dome and gallery ceilings are embellished with a series of allegorical paintings and carved niches. Spiral staircases with wrought iron railings connect the upper and lower galleries and add another level of elegance and charm.

The collections of the Petit Palais include paintings, statues, tapestries, religious icons and other art objects dating from ancient times to the 19th century. The works of many prominent French artists such as Monet, Fragonard, Poussin, Delacroix, Courbet, Cezanne, Gaugin and Rodin are celebrated along with other European masters such as Rembrandt, Modigliani, Durer and Rubens.

The inner courtyard, also designed in the Beaux Arts style, is a masterpiece in and of itself for its symmetrical forms that include coupled columns, gilded bronze statues, and high relief sculptures. The lush garden is full of trees, shrubs, bushes and flowering plants with paths, ponds and fountains surrounding it.

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Lose Yourself in the Loveliness of the Louvre

May 17, 2018
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Whether it’s the mysterious Mona Lisa, the colossal Coronation of Napoleon, the passionate Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, the wondrous Winged Victory of Samothrace, or any of its other monumental masterpieces, there are countless ways to lose yourself in the loveliness of the Louvre.

Classical Meets Contemporary

For me, the love fest with the world’s largest and most-visited museum actually starts with the building’s expansive grounds that border the Right Bank of the Seine River and run along the charming Avenue des Champs-Elysees.

From the glorious Tuileries Gardens to the grand Carrousel Triumphal Arch that lead into the museum’s main courtyard, Cour Napoleon, classical architecture and sculptures abound and are then strikingly juxtaposed against I.M. Pei’s contemporary glass and metal pyramids that mark the central entrance into all wings of the Louvre.

While there are numerous sculptures carved into the Louvre’s facade, there is only one statue that stands in the Cour Napoleon and it is Bernini’s brilliant equestrian statue of Louis XIV (The Sun King), which is a lead cast of the original Carrara marble version. Bernini was a sculptural genius and this statue showcases his talents in being able to manipulate stone and create a sense of flowing garments and natural movement.

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Grand Louvre Pyramids

Although highly controversial due to their sleek, modern looks, the Louvre Pyramid (exterior) and The Inverted Pyramid (interior) are undoubtedly two of the Louvre’s star attractions and certainly succeed in creating a sense of intrigue (or repulsion) for visitors depending on their artistic preferences.

Despite the initial outcry of purists who felt the pyramid designs were inconsistent with the classical French Renaissance style of the original buildings, there has been no negligible impact to attendance figures. On any given day, crowds continue to throng to the Louvre to take in its many marvels.

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Four Fabulous Levels of Loveliness

With 38,000 objects on display at any given time, the Louvre collection spreads over four levels starting from the basement entrance and continuing up for three floors.

Basement

The galleries in the basement include works of Islamic art; French, Italian, Spanish and Northern European sculpture; Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities; and  sections dedicated to the history of the Louvre and remnants of medieval vaults dating back to King Louis IX.

One of the highlights from the Egyptian gallery is The Crypt of the Sphinx, which is a half man (pharaoh’s head) and half animal (lion’s body) rose-coloured granite sculpture.

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First Floor

Venus de Milo is on full display in her resplendent glory in the Greek antiquities gallery on the first floor. Other galleries on this level include Oriental, Egyptian, Etruscan and Roman antiquities; French, Italian, Spanish and Northern European sculpture; and African, Asian, Oceanic and Native American art.

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Second Floor

Decorative arts such as floor to ceiling tapestries, table-top statuettes and ceramic vases take up half of the second floor; the other half is divided between Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities; French, Italian and Spanish painting; and Italian drawings.

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is located on the second floor, as well as the museum’s largest painting, The Wedding Feast at Cana by Paolo Veronese, which famously depicts the Biblical story when Jesus turns water into wine. (Note: Expect to feel like a crammed in sardine when viewing the Mona Lisa and hold your camera steady as there will be plenty of jostling about and jockeying for position to get a picture of da Vinci’s famous lady.)

Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People is an outstanding historical piece on display in the French Painting gallery. Many works by Jacques-Louis David are also found in this gallery, including The Coronation of Napoleon, Oath of the Horatii, and The Intervention of the Sabine Women.

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Third Floor

Drawings and paintings from French, German, Flemish and Dutch artists are featured on the third floor.

Some of the works from early German and Dutch masters include Erasmus of Rotterdam by Hans Holbein the Younger, Self-Portrait with Thistle by Albrecht Durer, and The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin by Jan van Eyck.

Flemish and Dutch Baroque paintings from the likes of Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn, Anthony van Dyck, and Jan Vermeer also adorn the third floor gallery walls. Among their well-known works are The Medicis Cycle by Rubens, Charles I at the Hunt by van Dyck, and The Lacemaker by Vermeer.

Planning and Pace Pays Off

Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, seeing all of the Louvre is going to take more than one visit. The key to conquering the Louvre is to have a strategy in place. With a little bit of pre-planning and commitment to sticking to a steady pace once inside the museum’s hallowed hallows, your efforts will be rewarded in seeing a dizzying array of some of the world’s best art.


The Vastness of the Vatican Museums

May 14, 2018
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Vatican City State may be the smallest state in the world but it contains one of the world’s largest (and most-visited) museums. With over 50 galleries and 22 separate collections comprised of over 70,000 eclectic works, the vastness of the Vatican Museums extends from its marble floors to its vaulted ceilings and all through its long, winding corridors that lead to lavish chapels and the private papal chambers.

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Renaissance Masterpieces

From Michelangelo to Raphael, the walls and ceilings of the Vatican Museums are adorned with works completed by some of the greatest Renaissance artists.

Sistine Chapel

While best known for Michelangelo’s dazzling painted ceiling and his iconic altar wall piece, The Last Judgment, the Sistine Chapel is full of other frescos completed by other accomplished Italian artists such as Botticelli, Perugino and Signorelli.

The art work on the chapel’s side walls is divided by tiers and includes (from bottom to top): painted draperies and papal crests, biblical scenes from the lives of Moses (Old Testament) and Jesus (New Testament), portraits of popes, the ancestors of Christ, and the prophets. The ancestors were painted by Michelangelo in lunettes, half-moon shaped spaces above the chapel windows, as part of his commission for the chapel ceiling. Michelangelo also painted the prophets that are situated between the lunettes and alternate between male and female figures.

The main theme of the ceiling is the Book of Genesis and includes nine of its stories such as the Creation of Adam, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the Great Flood. The ceiling covers over 5,000 square feet and contains 300 larger than life painted figures.

Raphael Rooms (Stanze di Raffaello)

Commissioned by Pope Julius II, the Raphael Rooms are located in the Palace of the Vatican and are part of the papal apartments that are open to the public.

Raphael and members of his workshop painted a series of frescoes in four rooms covering a variety of themes.

The largest room is the Hall of Constantine (Sala di Costantino) that celebrates the triumph of Christianity over paganism.

Fittingly, the theme of the Room of the Signatura (Stanza della Segnatura) is wisdom and it was used as a library and tribunal meeting room. One of Rapahel’s most famous frescoes, The School of Athens, is found in the philosophy section of the library.

The other two rooms are the Room of the Fire in the Borgo (Stanza dell’incendio del Borgo), which highlight events in the lives of Popes Leo III and Leo IV, and the Room of Heliodorus (Stanza di Eliodoro, which depicts the theme of Christ’s heavenly protection over the Church.

Classical Sculptures

In addition to highlighting the works of cherished Italian artists, the papacy has also showed a great appreciation for art from other historical civilizations, particularly Egyptian, Greek and Etruscan sculptures.

The Pio Clementino Museum includes Greek and Roman sculptures such as The Belvedere Torso, The LaocoonThe Three Graces, and Sleeping Ariadne.

Contemporary Art

Thanks to the efforts of Pope Paul VI, who was interested in bridging a gap between the papacy and contemporary culture, the Vatican Museums include some 8,000 pieces of art dating from the end of the 19th century to the early 20th century. The works in the Collection of Modern Religious Art come from renowned Italian and international artists such as de Chirico, Balla, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Chagall, Matisse, Dali and Picasso.